Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Herbal Health Aids During the Civil War

From:, 5-31-14

Back in 1861 when the Civil War started, ten million soldiers needed some form of medical assistance informed Helen Grosso, Master Gardener, to a room full of interested visitors last month at the Hughesville Library. Based on her research from a text written in 1863, "Southern Fields and Forests", many herbs and plants were used to try and treat the wounded soldiers. This was one of the first recorded and published medical botanies in history which compiled practical information on the useful properties of trees and plants of the "confederate states."

At the time, much of the South was cut off from supplies. According to Grosso, there were 194 surgeons, but only 24 for the South, and many had less than one year's experience. "Supplies were low. Quinine cost $100 an ounce," she said. They used mullein leaves, corn husks and plantain leaves for bandages. Yarrow was used to pack the wounds, and there were no sanitation methods. A Surgeon General, William Hammond, wrote a book on military sanitary practices. "This was the beginning of our medical library," Grosso stated, "which now became the largest library in the world."

Many substitutions were made for medicines and people had to forage the fields during the war. For example, twigs of magnolia trees were used for toothbrushes and the LaBella or snapdragon was used for skin and stomach aches. "They thought Boneset, a common perennial, would fix bones," said Grosso. "They would also make teas to treat malaria and fever such as the bee balm." Slippery elm tea was very useful for whooping cough.


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